Kurt Thomas, who led Indiana State to a national championship in gymnastics and the first U.S. male gymnast to win a world championship gold medal, has died. He was 64.
Thomas’ family said he died Friday. He had a stroke May 24, caused by a tear of the basilar artery in the brain stem.
“Yesterday, I lost my universe, my best friend and my soulmate of 24 years. Kurt lived his life to the extreme, and I will be forever honored to be his wife,” wife Beckie Thomas told International Gymnast Magazine.
Thomas ranks as one of Indiana State University’s greatest athletes. He was a four-time United States Gymnastics Federation champion as well as an Olympian.
In 1975 he won five medals at the Pan-American Games. He competed as a member of the 1976 U.S. team and would have participated in the 1980 games in Moscow — where he would have been favored to win the all-around championship as the best gymnast in the world — were it not for the U.S. boycott of those games.
After competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Thomas won the floor exercise in the 1978 world championships in Strasbourg, France, for the first U.S. men’s title. In the 1979 worlds in Fort Worth, Texas, he successfully defended the floor exercise title and won the horizontal bar.
He was a five-time NCAA champion, winning the parallel bars and all-around in 1977 and parallel bars, horizontal bar and the all-around in 1979 and also has a pommel horse move, the Thomas Flair, named for him.
Thomas helped lead the men’s gymnastics to the 1977 National Championship. He earned All-America honors 13 times in his career and was the James E. Sullivan award winner as the nation’s best amateur athlete in 1979.
After missing out on the 1980 Olympics, Thomas turned professional, starred in the 1985 movie “Gymkata” and worked as a television commentator. He and Beckie owned and ran Kurt Thomas Gymnastics in Frisco, Texas.
He was inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame in 2010.
“I am completely devastated to hear this,” Olympic teammate Bart Conner told International Gymnast Magazine. “Kurt was a fierce rival, who went on to become a cherished friend. My heart is breaking for his wife, Beckie, his children, Hunter, Kassidy and Kurt, as well as the entire gymnastics community, who lost a true pioneer today.”
“All of us in the gymnastics family are sadden, shocked and devastated by the passing of our own,” Nadia Comaneci tweeted. “Love to the family.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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